By Terry Phelps
“The Artist” is a well-known movie title now, but it has been a family title for Michael DeVore since his early childhood in an extended family of art connoisseurs. DeVore, who most recently studied at the Florence Academy of Art in Florence, Italy, was one of the artists recently featured in Oklahoma City’s Festival of the Arts.
This would have pleased his grandmother, the late Marion DeVore, who was the primary force in the creation of the Festival of the Arts in 1967 as the first president of the Arts Council of Oklahoma City.
She was also the first woman president of two other arts organizations: the Oklahoma Art Center and the Allied Arts Foundation. She served on the board of directors of the National Advocates for the Arts Committee and was chairman of the Oklahoma Advocates for the Arts, a statewide organization working toward public awareness of the importance of the arts. She was the recipient of the Oklahoma Governor’s Arts Award in 1979, was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Oklahoma Heritage Association in 1980, and into the Wall of Fame of the Oklahoma City Schools Foundation in 1988.
As the Arts Council of Oklahoma City notes in its history of the Festival of the Arts, Marion DeVore sought $7,500 from the Symphony and Art Center boards for initial funding of the festival. She and two other leaders “begged artists to participate, and most of them thought it was a crazy idea to have their work hung outside.”
Michael’s grandfather, Dr. John DeVore, was a talented sculptor who might have pursued sculpture as a career if he’d had the opportunity as a young man, but instead chose medicine. He and Marion visited art museums around the world and worked tirelessly to increase art education and appreciation in Oklahoma.
Michael’s uncle, Peter Hoffman, a major art collector, has been a city councilman and mayor of Nichols Hills, and is currently the vice-mayor. Hoffman also serves on the Associate Board of Directors of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Another uncle by marriage, Arthur Wheelock, is curator of northern baroque painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and professor of art history at the University of Maryland.
Michael’s parents, Allan and Annette DeVore, are collectors of art from emerging artists. It seems that being an artist was Michael’s destiny.
“From the time Michael was 3,” says Allan, a prominent Oklahoma City attorney, “even before we could figure out whether he was right- or left-handed, he would sit at our kitchen table with colored pencils and crayons, drawing anything and everything that came to his mind. We would ask him if he wanted to go outside and play with his friends. If we could actually get his attention, he would tell us that he was already playing and wanted to keep doing it.”
“Michael acted out events and created scenes in his head that he would then put on paper. His pencil or crayon would be shifted back and forth from one hand to the other as he furiously tried to capture on paper what he was thinking about. He sounded like a kid with action figures, and made sounds with his mouth to imitate the action that was going on. Then he would madly scribble away, as the figures in his mind appeared in blurs on his drawings. Most of the time it was hard to tell what he was trying to illustrate, but as he got older, the pictures became clearer and more life-like.”
Allan credits grandmother Marion for recognizing Michael’s talents as a child. When he was 6, she arranged for him to attend summer art classes at Oklahoma City University, the youngest student ever in the program. She gave Michael constant praise and encouragement.
He attended James L. Dennis Elementary, Hefner Middle School and Putnam City North High School, winning numerous art awards along the way. While in high school, he participated in the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain and in the summer art program at Southern Methodist University.
DeVore won an academic scholarship at Pepperdine University in California, where he completed a B.A. in art in 2005, intending to become an animator for Disney. However, when he visited the University of Southern California’s school of animation, he found that it was an unlikely career because of computer-generated graphics.
“I felt very lost as an artist,” DeVore says.
So, he found himself in Italy. Turning to his love of realistic painting, he applied to the Florence Academy of Art. When he was not among the eight students selected from approximately 150 applicants for the 2005 fall trimester, he immediately enrolled in the academy’s summer art program, focusing on portrait painting. After summer classes concluded, he supplemented his Spanish language fluency with six weeks of Italian language classes in Florence, and continued to apply for admission. After two more unsuccessful applications, he was finally among the few students accepted for the full painting program beginning in 2006.
The Florence Academy is rigorous, with a full day of classes every weekday, plus one night per week. Days are broken into two parts: half a day in the model room working with a live model in a single pose for four or five weeks, then half a day in a shared studio.
Students initially work on paper with pencil for small drawings and charcoal for large drawings. In the studio, they copy drawings made by Charles Bargue in the 1800s. Incidentally, Vincent Van Gogh copied all 197 of Bargue’s casts.
After completing a number of copies, students set up plaster casts to draw from, first with charcoal on white paper and later on toned paper with the addition of chalk for the highlights. Eventually, students begin painting with a grisaille – or monochrome palette – consisting of black, white and raw umber, eventually adding to the palette yellow ochre and iron oxide red, into the colorful world of still life.
The introduction to still life is the same for everyone, beginning with a single pear. Students are first given as much time as needed to complete a painting of the pear. Then they paint the pear in one day, and finally paint the pear from memory. After this ritual initiation, they are allowed to set up any still life they choose.
Students are then welcome to begin hiring models for portraits in their studios and are expected to complete a number of drawn portraits, eventually moving on to painted ones. Anatomy lectures occur every Monday, art history lectures every Friday. In the weekly evening course, they discuss pictorial composition and bring sketches of their own compositions.
Michael also took an intensive anatomy course in which he made detailed anatomical drawings and a clay sculpture of the skeleton with muscles laid over one half. He and some other students met once a week for an independent night drawing class without instruction.
The painting program consists of three years of classes, but students sometimes stay for an additional year of specialized studying in their area of primary interest. DeVore completed his fourth year of study at the Florence Academy’s facility in Gothenburg, Sweden, which happened also to be the home of Cecelia Thorell, whom he had met in their first year in the Florence Academy. They married in May 2010 and are expecting their first child next month.
Now, DeVore is a classical realist painter, whose work includes landscapes and still lifes, but who favors narrative portraits in the tradition of Rembrandt. The works of Michael and Cecelia are displayed in galleries and exhibits around the world.
His greatest honor was when the Florence Academy’s founder and artistic director, Daniel Graves, informed him that the school wanted to buy one of his drawings to put in the Academy’s permanent gallery of student work.
Marion DeVore always predicted that Michael would end up being the most famous member of the family. Thanks to her and his parents, as well as his talent and hard work, Michael is living the life of the artist.
Four of Michael’s paintings can be seen on the Florence Academy’s website, http://www.florenceacademyofart.com/Alumni%20Gallery/gallery/painters/DeVore_Michael/. More of his works can be viewed at www.michaeldevore.net.